Inspired to Accept a Friendly Compromise

A friend, who refused to take no for an answer, wins one last genial debate from the world beyond.

By Jerry D. Johnson, Loudon, Tennessee

As appeared in

Thanks, Jerry!” Jay called from his front door. I waved to him from the forsythia bush I was clipping. No thanks necessary, I thought.

My friend Jay W. Steele had always taken excellent care of his property—until his osteoporosis made it impossible. Now that spring had arrived here in east Tennessee, his yard was looking rougher than ever. The grass had reached ankle-length, and weeds were choking out his flower beds.

That wouldn’t do. So, I’d gone over unannounced one afternoon and got to work.

By dusk the yard was back in shape. As I was loading my tools into my truck, Jay walked up and held out two bills—a 50 and a 10.

“Jay, I didn’t do this to get paid!” I said.

“You know me,” Jay replied. “I repay kindness.”

It was true—Jay never forgot to acknowledge favors. He would pay for gas if you drove him to the doctor, and if you brought food over to the house, you’d always receive a special gift as a token of appreciation when you least expected it.

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But I did this yard work out of friendship. It didn’t feel right to take money for it.

“Really, Jay. I can’t take it!”

“Okay,” Jay said. But the second I turned away he shoved the bills in my shirt pocket.

“Whoa!” I laughed, fishing it out. “We’ll make a friendly compromise,” I said. “How about just the ten?”

Jay finally relented. That time. Once a week, I stopped by his place to spruce up the yard. We must have sounded like a broken record to his neighbors, always going back and forth about the payment until Jay agreed to give me only ten dollars.

“It’s enough to cover the gas for my truck and the lawn mower,” I said one Saturday when Jay was being particularly stubborn.

“I guess we can call it even, then,” he agreed. Finally! I thought.

Tending Jay’s yard was a lot easier after he agreed to my “price.” I enjoyed the work. Season after season, I’d tend to the plants and keep the lawn looking trim. Then, in September, just as the leaves began to fall from his maple trees, Jay went into the hospital for quadruple bypass surgery. He didn’t make it.

After the funeral, Jay’s family prepared the property to be sold. I performed my usual yard work for the last time. I mowed the lawn and ran the edger along the walkway. I raked up the autumn leaves. After I finished, I gathered my tools and loaded one after another into my truck.

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As I bent over for the clippers, I noticed something tossing in the breeze on the ground. I refused to leave one leaf on my friend’s lawn. I had to laugh, thinking that for once, I wouldn’t have to accept the “friendly compromise” Jay and I had settled on. This time, my friend, you have no choice.

The breeze blew the stray leaf closer, until it came to a rest right at my feet. I reached to pick it up and leave Jay’s yard pristine, just the way he liked it. But this was no leaf. There on the ground was a faded ten-dollar bill. A thank-you, if ever there was one.

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J.W. Steele..."Jay", was my grandfather! My Dad, for all intensive purposes, really. One of the greatest men to walk this earth. He was kind, loving, big hearted, giving, and NEVER met a stranger. Everyone who knew Jay, felt like they "knew" Jay. You could talk to him, joke with him, and be yourself around him. But most of all, you could trust him, and know that if you ever needed anything, he would be there for you. My mom and dad divorced when I was very young, and I moved in with Jay and my grandmother, "Nanny", and even though it was different for me growing up with my grandparents when I was a kid, I will soon be 40, and I now consider myself one lucky kid to have been raised in such a unique household. The generation gap was there, but now I appreciate it...the big band music, Elvis Presley on 8 track, 78 records, Lawrence Welk, The Waltons on name it. It's things that I now share with my nine year old daughter, who, thankfully, got to know her great gandparents for five years before they passed. She especially go to to know Jay. Nanny passed in March of 2008, and Jay in September of 2008, so in that six months, my daughter, Sydnee and I, spent lots of extra time with Jay, trying to fill in the void that my grandmother had left after her passing. But, even we couldn't fill that empty hole in Jay's heart. Let's face it, after forty six years together, nothing could have. Losing Jay to what I chalk up to a "broken heart", is the hardset thing I have ever been through in my life. Losing Nanny was hard, but she had been sick for so long, I was more at peace when she passed, because I was "prepared" for it, I guess. Jay's happened so suddenly, and I can still hear him calling me '"Babe", which was his endearing term he used for all the girls in the family, telling me everything would be ok after his surgery. It was for a little while. But I think back to my grandmothers funeral, when Jay asked everyone to leave except for me, himself, and my grandmother all dressed up in her casket...He said it had alwasys been us three, and it needed to be us three at the end. He kissed me on the forehead, and then he kissed my grandmother on the forehead and said " I'll see you soon, Babe. I love you." I knew from that day, it wouldn't be long that I would be losing the greatest man that I had ever known. I am so glad that my stepfather, Jerry Johnson, was able to share such a wonderful story of how much Jay ahd touched him, and that Jay, wasn't going to let him get away with grooming the yard without paying last time. One special angel...That's my Jay...That's OUR Jay!!! Love you forever and the best grandfather/father a girl could have ever asked for!!!